Environmentalists blame Kennedy Point marina development for death of kororā - little blue penguin

5:30 pm on 13 November 2021

Tangata whenua, environmentalists, and native bird experts on Waiheke island are outraged after the death of a kororā - little blue penguin - found near the site of the opposed Kennedy Point marina.

Kororā penguins

Kororā - little blue penguins (file image). Photo: Dr John Cockrem

The local Waiheke native bird rescue centre trawled through the waters and were able to catch the injured kororā on the surface yesterday afternoon.

It was then taken away for treatment and found to be severely underweight and anaemic with an injury to its wing and a puncture wound.

Waiheke Native Bird Rescue founder Karen Saunders said since the marina development had begun, she had been seriously concerned with the number of ill birds brought in recently from the Kennedy Point marina site.

A post-mortem was being conducted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to determine the cause of death, but she said she was certain the impact of the construction zone contributed to it dying.

"This is what development does, you are taking away habitat and destroying wildlife," Saunders said.

"This is like the fourth one I've caught by boat in these sort of areas ... that's due to the development.

"When you do wildlife rehabilitation- you're out in the wild doing the rescues and rehab, so you should shine a light on what's happening in the environment, we only see the very tip of the iceberg so there's going to be a lot more death and a lot more habitat loss that we're not seeing.

"The marine development is hurting our community and it's hurting us as a facility."

The development of the marina at Pūtiki Bay has been met with strong opposition from some manawhenua representatives and members of the Waiheke community.

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Save the penguins poster at Kennedy Point marina protest on Waiheke Island. Photo: Rose Davis

Protect Pūtiki have long challenged the resource consent granted to the developers by Auckland Council due to a lack of public engagement, consultation with all manawhenua and an absence of a satisfactory penguin management plan.

The death of the penguin yesterday evening comes days after 32 protesters and two unknown persons were taken to court by the developer, Kennedy Point Boat Harbour Limited and served with a blanket injunction notice, restricting access to the site.

Granted by the High Court at Auckland, the notice prevented the group from entering within 20m of the construction zone of the marina during working hours.

Mauri o te Moana environmentalist Bianca Ranson said protesters had repeatedly criticised the development of the private marina due to concerns for native species inhabiting the surrounding area.

She was devastated when she received a call last night informing her of the penguin's death after it was rescued by native bird experts yesterday afternoon.

It had been spotted by protesters, apparently fatigued and disorientated while construction staff continued to pass through on boats.

Ranson said they had long warned about the serious dangers to the kororā and that the developer's penguin management plan was inadequate.

"Now we're seeing the effects of construction on our wildlife in that bay," Ranson said.

"We predicted all of this, and we've been trying to get the attention of Auckland Council and DOC, challenging their inadequate plan.

"They called up Karen Saunders from Waiheke native bird rescue to come down and remove healthy penguins from their burrows because she has a DOC permit, but that permit is not for removing healthy penguins."

Ranson and members of Protect Pūtiki have taken the injunction notice as an act of desperation from the developers and said further separated tangata whenua from their turangawaewae.

Kennedy Point Boat Harbour Limited director Kitt Littlejohn was not aware that the rescued penguin had died but said ecologists had been on site the previous day and had noticed kororā in the area.

It was very sad the penguin had died but there were no intentions to stop construction works as the company believed the current penguin management plan is sufficient, he said.

"That's very sad. I know our ecologists were on site the prior day and did see some penguins coming and going around the breakwater as they often do but they didn't report anything concerning back to me.

"Our penguin management protocols require daily inspections of the work site prior to work commencing, they also require all staff on site to keep an eye out for what's going on in the water.

"As far as I know everything was done in accordance with the plan," he said.

Since March, the site of the marina has attracted widespread attention following social media coverage of scuffles between protesters and security personal guarding the site.

Criticism has also been directed towards large scale police deployment at the site and the removal of an established occupation site during an Auckland Covid-19 lockdown.

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Police at Kennedy Point (file image). Photo: Rose Davis

Kennedy Point Boat Harbour claimed in their injunction request that repeated activities carried out by protesters had delayed construction progress and the developer had gone through all the legal avenues to build the marina.

Littlejohn said the restrictions would best help protect everyone from harm while at the site.

While the company wished they did not need to take the matter to court, the developers believed the protesters were putting themselves in danger while occupying the construction zone, he said.

"Everyone would have seen over the past few months, the scenes that occurred down at Kennedy Point between the construction team and protesters.

"The protesters had been putting themselves in danger by going into the construction zone, knowing that that would disrupt works.

"The wish would have been that the resource consent that was granted was respected by people who didn't like the project.

"The injunction was sought as a direct consequence of that and sought to enable the company to better manage and control the construction areas to ensure public safety was preserved."

Littlejohn said the developers had been regularly communicating with local manawhenua and believed engagement with the community prior to construction starting had been done to the highest level.

The project would be a huge asset for Waiheke Island and support from the public had been shared with them, he said.

The interim injunction is currently in place but Protect Pūtiki vow to continue efforts to prevent the construction of the private marina.

"We know from other movements around the country that just because it's legal it doesn't mean that it's right," Ranson said.

"If anything, it's brought us closer together."

In a statement, Kennedy Point Boat Harbour said its ecologists would investigate what caused the kororā or little blue penguin's injury.

It said it was first seen near the car ferry terminal and later swam through the southern end of the construction area, more than 100 metres from equipment.

The company said the crew paused activity so it could be rescued safely.

It also said no kororā had been seen in the vicinity of the works, a curtain around the immediate area excluded them, and construction vessels approached and operated at five knots or less an hour there.

It said if construction was found to have been the cause, it would review its protocols.

Auckland Council has been notified.

DOC said it was looking into what happened, but it would be premature to say more at present.

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